Clarissa Chun hails from Hawaii, which isn’t a wrestling mecca like Iowa or Pennsylvania. She played judo, swam, and participated in gymnastics as a kid. She’s quiet, introspective, and thoughtful. But, on August 8, 2012, she will take the mat to represent the United States in women’s freestyle wrestling and, in her own words, “…I am a threat!”
An underdog going into the 2008 Trials, Clarissa burst onto the Olympic scene by upsetting 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Patricia Miranda. You may remember her from the 2008 Beijing Olympics as she won her first two matches before yielding to Japan in the semis en route to a 5th place finish.
We here at INFOtainment News caught up with the first two-time women’s freestyle wrestling Olympian to find out about her preparations to take gold in London.
We asked about the best-of-three Trials finals against Alyssa Lampe – that series went three matches, the final match going three periods, (think, the equivalent of a World Series Game 7…) Clarissa reflects, “I really don’t remember a lot. I don’t know what happened. I warmed up and felt fine, everything felt fine. Then my coach said my face turned white in the tunnel.”
When she went out to face Lampe for the first match, she told us, “I don’t even know what I did in that first match, I don’t remember it. I have no idea how I won.”
Clarissa’s coaches repeatedly yelled at her, “Where are you?” She answered plaintively, “Iowa.” They pressed, “What are we here for? Why is this happening?” and slapped her in the face on the mat to wake her up. Lampe won period two of the second match on a last second takedown, and went on to take the match forcing a decisive third match. Lampe then again won the second period at the last second to force a winner-takes-all third period. “I was shooting deep, then gave up my back. It wasn’t technique, it was all mental,” Clarissa reflected.
So we asked, what happened in that third period? How did you come around? “I felt better. I dug deep, it was all mental.” Clarissa prevailed. “I won ugly, but I was disappointed in my performance.”
A performance like that would shake an ordinary athlete. For Clarissa Chun, it serves as fuel to squeeze improvement from a sport she loves. “I love wrestling. It’s an individual sport. I love how it’s tested me, the different styles and how you have to overcome adversity. I have put in hours of training and tons of hard work.”
And so she prepares. Working with coaches Keith Wilson and wrestling icon Terry Steiner, Chun will start wrestling camp on Monday hoping to peak in London.
Her coaches are relentless technicians. “We practice to be perfect; to have the perfect takedown.”
Whether she is shooting from her arsenal of single legs or going to the high crotch, she claims to not have a distinct style, but can react with a myriad of moves, depending on the flow of the match.
Wrestlers do not know the tournament draw yet, so she does not train for specific opponents; rather, she is training for situations and various techniques. Along with that specialized training, Clarissa is seeing a sports psychologist to work on the mental aspects of the game, “… I don’t know what’s going to arise, but I’m going to manage my energy levels before during and after the match.”
We then asked that emotionally gripping question, what it would be like for her during that magical moment when she stands atop the podium watching the Stars and Stripes being raised, The Star Spangled Banner playing in her honor after a Gold Medal victory?
“You guys are going to make me cry. I will cry. I would thank so many people behind it, who supported me. It’s not just about me, it takes a village. I would thank so many people. I would get be on Ellen.”
Man you gotta love that – the tears of dreams from a champion and a guest appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. You can guarantee we’ll be watching that episode.
The short time we spent talking with Clarissa Chun we could tell the mental game is as much of her preparation as takedowns. About 20 minutes into the interview, after she concertedly walked through her mental state at the Trials and how approach was a clear focus for her, she found words that seemed to resonate well during this journey:
“I am going to make them wrestle me. I am a threat.”
With mental acumen and a mantra like that headed into London, look out world!
Storified by James Hicks · Thu, May 10 2012 02:58:52